Personal Branding May Not Be What You Think It Is

People are making a career out of that personal branding bandwagon that may have seen better days. There are multiple examples of selling the idea and products associated with personal branding. We have massaged and smithed this buzzword of years ago when somebody first put those words together until we now have a confusing array of ideas about its definition. We will probably debate the myths and mysteries that surround this topic until people get tired of it, or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. The question is not whether or not it exists, but what do we expect it to do for us.

Your “person” has a brand whether you want it or not. In high school, we judged people by their reputation, and we never grew out of that mindset. Rumors circulating about “that girl” or “that guy” could build them up in the eyes of popularity-seeking classmates or tear them down with harsh judgemental morality. Almost every day we see articles in all forms of media about someone who is judged to be guilty of some offense without considering any of the facts. If the social media rumor mill gets wind of some real or imagined atrocity, people will be shunned, boycotted, and fired from their jobs without a second thought. Most of those commenting or expanding this web of information are parroting information they have heard from someone else, maybe reliable, maybe not, and not from first-hand knowledge. We make these judgments without looking at both sides of the case to support preconceived notions. Political expediency is a bitch!

A negative personal brand can hurt us more than a positive one can help us. The truth is that unconsciously sending out messages based on emotion rather than logic can cause irreparable damage to our image. A favorable brand image will never get us that dream job, but a negative brand can get us barred from consideration. There are proponents of branding as the primary means of making an entry into the job market, but it won’t offset a lack of necessary qualifications. It also falls short of explaining what happens after getting that job and failing because the person they hired is not what they thought they were getting. Daily personal branding on the job is like continually seeking that next level promotion, a better seat at the table, or collaboration with coworkers. In higher mathematics, we would define a person’s brand as not a constant value but more like a variable in your life’s equation.

It is true that what others say about us is crucial. It is also important to realize that your mother’s bumper sticker or your grandfather’s personalized t-shirt is not a valuable reference for a professional setting. It is nice to have the confidence that someone gives us their unconditional support, but most references that count are conditional. There is a reason that employers sometimes ask for personal recommendations for a job application. It is not possible to evaluate someone’s ultimate potential through a simple conversation or an interview situation. The same logic applies daily when our work will be judged as much by what other professionals say about us when we aren’t there as by our actual job performance. Anyone touched by our actions on or off the job can add wanted or unwanted pieces to the puzzle of our brand.

Every individual is in charge of the way others see them. Believing in some priceless value of our brand is probably not as important as understanding that it exists and each person alone is the one that ultimately makes it happen. Yes, others with an agenda can attack with malicious intent, but it will be more challenging to succeed in the long run with that tactic if our actions don’t match the accusations. Vigilance in maintaining that image shouldn’t be an overbearing task as long as we are aware that our efforts do have consequences, both positive and negative. Living by that creed will help us to say “I’m sorry” honestly when we are wrong and “thank you” sincerely when we receive help from someone. The bottom line is merely the interpersonal relationships in our lives and how we manage them.

Technology and the social media frenzy that has grown with it give us a consistent methodology for screwing things up instantly. It is easier than ever to make unerasable mistakes, and there is no eraser powerful enough to do a rapid repair. That “Enter” key on your keyboard can be your worst enemy.

Holes in Your Underwear (and Other Little Secrets)

We’ve all done it. That last pair of underwear in the drawers drawer is not something you would be proud to have others see you wearing. Your mother always told you not to leave home without pristine underwear in case of an accident. If there is no horrible occurrence to expose your nether regions to the world, who will know? You will, of course! Does it matter?

A superstitious mind will give unscientific believability to things that of themselves have no power over you. There is a debatable fine line between superstition and belief. Faith in something gives us comfort… unless subconsciously we know that our faith is not vested in something real. Couples who each wear half of a Mizpah coin shouldn’t believe there is some magical protection to having a gold talisman on a chain around their neck, but the prayer inscribed on it gives remembrance of that other person while apart from each other. It is that power within us that may make us a little more cautious of our actions out of love for them.

Psychologists tell us there is power in positive reminders of our belief system. It can be a cross-in-the-pocket, a Chai and Shema Israel medallion, an AA token commemorating hard work, or any of the hundreds of other items meaningful only to the one who holds them. The power they wield is as potent as the mind of the individual will allow. You hide these things because they are personal and not because they are symbols that you don’t want to be revealed out of shame. They give a constant reassurance that we do believe in something and that our values do mean something. It appears that the mental preparation to face a life event is like preparing for battle to win a war.

When they don’t know, what you do can make a difference. Looking up “dressing up for a phone interview” on Google results over a million hits (million plus one after this one). It is also a confidence builder to not only dress for phone calls, standing up while talking gives confidence building mobility to your speech patterns. Deep breathing practice can oxygenate brain cells to fire with their most effective interconnections. Sometimes, it’s not what you say as much as how you say it. A personal image is everything, and mindset controls your image.

Does a hole in your underwear affect your image when meeting someone face to face? The answer rests with how it makes you feel about yourself. Standing tall makes you feel powerful when it is not intimidating to others. Power posing can boost your confidence. An article in Psychology Today reports that little secrets decrease people’s overall sense of well-being. “People found themselves thinking about the secret three times more often than actively hiding it.” Even if you are the only one who knows about your inconsequential secret, the wasted energy to keep it secret can undermine your presentation and outward appearance.

What happens in your home, stays at home unless others are involved. One reason working remotely from home can become a topic of distrust and disbelief on the part of management is because of the lack of trust that the employee is honest about time committed to work vs. time used for personal business. The mindset of an excellent offsite employee is one that prepares for the day at home just as if they will be visible in an office full of coworkers. You must believe that about yourself when interviewing for such a job or requesting remote access to your work. In execution, you need to exercise a daily routine of getting up, showering, getting dressed (without holy underwear) and commuting 10-feet to your workplace.

If confession is supposed to be good for the soul, why can’t you tell someone you have holes in your underwear today? Well, no rule says you can’t. Only you will know… and know the impact.

 

Photo Credit: © Luis Molinero Martnez via 123rf

Wanted – Team Player

What does being a team player in a business environment mean? It’s probably easier to describe the characteristics of a non-team player. In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote about a decision on pornography by saying that he couldn’t define it, but “…I know it when I see it.” Thus was born a new colloquialism that many hiring managers apply to the characteristics of the ideal candidate for a job. It’s frustrating for sourcers and recruiters because they are supporting someone who can’t communicate the exact qualifications needed, but are adamant that they will know the right stuff when they see it. Part of the problem with this undefined rule of decision making is that it is a marriage of two other misunderstood terms: culture fit, and ability. Both involve a sense of intuitive thought processes that in the current methodologies for hiring involve human bias and personal experience. We know how to spot a toxic environment, but deciding which potential employee will not lure us into that minefield is not something that can enter a decision tree to produce automatically perfect results. AI advocates take note.

One of the biggest problems with using sports analogies to describe business prowess is that there is no universal perception of what these terms mean. Being a team player in the office doesn’t mean bringing a bigger bat to the conference room for meetings. It probably does mean avoiding situations where two colleagues hate each other, lie for no reason, pursue a personal agenda at the expense of group goals, and otherwise metastasize the cancer of hostility throughout the organization. The dilemma from a human resources perspective is to monitor and administer hiring practices without making decisions based on personality, but with an eye slanted toward maximizing harmony. It’s not easy, but there is a logical progression through the list of desirable characteristics that lead us to the meaning of a team player.

A good place to start this definition of an undisputed team player is to take a look into the element of effective communication. Working alone or with others means an employee shares ideas, goals, and results. Despite some managers claim to clairvoyance, you won’t know without a conversation with the individual. The words used in an interviewee’s response to questioning can give a clue as to their ability to both share and learn from co-workers. An interview gives them a platform to toot their own horn, and they should not shy away from talking about their accomplishments, but there can also be hints to a degree of obsessive egoism in the language of “I” and “me” vs. “we” and “us.” Communication is a two-way process, and the ability to listen actively can be demonstrated in an interview as well. Being an active participant in group activities is closer to the definition of a good employee than calling for a team player.

The next link in the chain describing characteristics of an individual with an ability to play well with others is the unique application of expertise. Learning and experience allows an employee not only to have the knowledge to perform a skill but also use that ability to become an expert resource for others. Most people look to the concept of a sports team to highlight the ability to excel alone and with others, but most sports analogies fail because franchise players always seem to draw more credit for winning than their teammates. Being a talented specialist in a group setting doesn’t mean that there is never a need for individual effort. It is only when the a player in an orchestra specializes on one particular instrument that the ensemble can create the harmony necessary to make pleasing music. Harmony in the workplace is a most desirable condidion to maintain.

It follows that expertise can’t happen without a native intelligence to learn, absorb, and execute. There are ways to measure intelligence using structured testing, but most companies won’t go to the trouble or expense to do it. Validation and administration of such tests is daunting! Even if it were easy, intelligence alone doesn’t guarantee that it’s owner will use it to the benefit of others. Some very smart people can be socially inept and standoffish. The ability of a candidate to see themselves as others see them and adjust their actions for the best outcomes is applied intelligence in action. The willingness to contribute well thought out ideas for the mutual accomplishment of corporate goals is a key to success. In an interview situation, giving evidence of successful contributions to a team success supports the element of team play.

Another contributing factor is demonstration of a proven work ethic. Looking at the steps taken to achieve group goals that require selfless activity regardless of difficulty or personal sacrifice show evidence of good team play. Behavoral approaches to interviewing fall short when it becomes a routine question and then drilling down to believable answers. Interviewers who can provide real life daily examples of problems to be solved will be better equipped to determine if the potential employee will do the tasks required to meet deadlines and reach important targets. Working hard won’t overcome serious shortcomings in other areas, but not working is much worse. Working hard on the wrong thing goes in the wrong direction and takes the group along for the ride.

Finally, a look at team play means searching for a someone who acts in collaboration with others. Why focus on leadership in non-management jobs? It’s simple. Often the focal point in brainstorming shifts from person to person until the consensus finds a common best solution. Interim leadership is just as important as organizational leadership when teamwork is the desired culture. Another component of being a collaborator is the undefined but essential element, followership. Nobody teaches courses or offers seminars on followership, but occasional shared leadership means that the majority of people on the team must know when to follow and the best way to do it. Another way of describing good collaboration may be flexibility.

No discussion of the concept of a team player would be complete without looking at both sides of the hiring situation. Even though employers should offer precise definitions of the desired characteristics of a prospective employee, they don’t always follow that rule. How does the job seeker show they meet the criteria of being a good team player? It does not meaning throwing around that term without thinking. Claiming attributes such as being a people person or working well with others is just as open ended as calling yourself a team player. Following the thought progression uncovered here, the evidence rests with communication, expertise, intelligence, work ethic, and collaboration. Concrete examples of accomplishments demonstrating these skills may indicate a high degree of being a team player. Is it important? Absolutely! Prove it even if they don’t ask.

 

Photo Credit: ©Denisismagilov via Dreamstime.com (modified)

Good Enough Is Not Enough

We are at war.

Mediocrity is winning so far.

I went shopping for shoes in one of those stores that advertises designer shoes at discount prices. I asked a mature looking woman wearing a store ID badge what happened to all the Brannock devices they used to have in every aisle. Blank stare… an unusual reaction for someone managing a shoe store. That may not be a common word to many people, but it’s like asking a writer about a keyboard. Is it any wonder that the shoe salesperson has become the prime example of jokes about incompetence, suggesting visions of Al Bundy characters with bad attitudes? Shoe sizes are important to overall health as the wrong size can cause skeletal problems, joint pain, and even blisters. Today the standard sales paradigm is to promote “This is what we have to sell” instead of “This is what you want and need.” Size D width for men is all you find on display shelves because average is good enough even if you do happen to need narrow or wide sizes. The conspiracy theorist living in my brain tells me this is the reason they don’t want you to know what size truly fits.

But it’s not just about selling shoes.

Look around at hundreds of other examples of mediocre attitudes that are pervasive in our daily lives. We have to go no further than where we work to see it in action. Despite claiming: “We only hire the best and brightest!” there is an unspoken alternate reality that it may be more cost effective to hire someone who simply applies for a position than to seek out a perfect cultural match or someone with proven problem-solving prowess. Like loose fitting shoes, a wrong hire can injure an organization and cause pain to the business and the other employees who have to pick up the slack. The eventual surgery to correct the organizational deformity not only removes the bad employee, it also leaves a visible scar and may create permanent damage to the employment brand, a.k.a. the company reputation. Studies have shown that the cost of firing and rehiring is greater than getting it right the first time. Doesn’t anybody care about that?

But this is not a lesson we learn, apply, and remember.

It isn’t corporate recruiters, human resources, or even company managers that create situations of hiring misfits. The problem is much worse than that. It’s a matter of everyone caving in to acceptance of societal norms that believe “good enough” is a benchmark of success. On the other side of the hiring dilemma, we see people making career choices that tend toward the status quo without looking beyond known horizons. Thinking outside the box has become more of a motivational poster theme than a mindset. How many times have you heard people who are blatantly dissatisfied with their current employment express concern about leaving their comfort zone? How many job seekers have you heard saying they will take anything offered as long as it’s a job and not what they are doing now. Fear and desperation prevent us from escaping the gravity of mediocrity and finding our best.

But if you want to give up completely, place more value on money than people.

Third party recruiters can choose to make money the old-fashioned way by hard work, or by spamming so many job seekers and companies that the process gets murky and the whole field gets a tarnished reputation. Hawking jobs to people who are marginally qualified reeks of mediocrity. Earning a living is not a bad thing. Making lots of money is a good thing. Dehumanizing those who are touched by the effort says something about the depth of the mediocrity of the individual doing it. Painting a broad brush picture of the search and hire industry should reveal some true leaning toward excellence instead of just enough to get by. Our parents tell us that a D average in school is not good enough, so where did we get the idea that good enough to pass is enough? Could we be complaining too much that the bar is set too high rather than aspiring to find better ways?

But even with help we only seem to set goals that are the easiest to reach.

Technology is a big factor in allowing us to raise the bar if we choose to do it. Artificial Intelligence will someday be ready to aid us in improving our lives, but often that which claims to be artificial thinking is an automation tool with a speedier way to process buzzwords for robotic decision making. Some companies are making real inroads in working out the bugs toward true AI. Unfortunately, many more are jumping on this “better mousetrap” bandwagon to peddle solutions that only allow us to keep making the same mistakes faster than we were able to do it before. The key to recruitment and human resources systems is to look for products that improve the lives of everyone involved. Selling or buying an off-the-shelf vanilla package with a one-size-fits-all mentality will be mediocre at best.

But can we do better? Wouldn’t that mean a total paradigm shift away from our current way of thinking? Polishing up our mediocrity only gives us shining mediocrity. Not losing is not the same as winning.

 

Photo credit: © The Brannock Device Company

 

Safety Nets and Backup Plans

Plan BIntelligent decision making requires the use of all weapons in our arsenal. Careless decision making is far easier. Except for a situation that is of so little importance that anything works, or is so simple nothing fails, the route to a less than a stupid decision must always follow a critical path to a goal. You can’t fix stupid, so where do you go next? A successful outcome comes from a carefully chosen sticky methodology that forces us to go from a starting point and end with an inescapable completion of the mission. The path to career success depends on choices at the beginning and dealing with pop-up obstacles. Deviations happen because the distance between two points is only a straight line in geometry books.

“I have a Plan B” is what people say to others when they want to convince others there are available alternatives. The transparency of this threat becomes obvious when lack of action pokes holes in reality.

“I have a Plan B” is what people say to themselves when they want to convince themselves that somewhere there is a better way. Failing to muster up the courage to do anything differently shows it wasn’t a plan after all.

“I have a Plan B” is what thinking people think when they want to want to sit down and consciously examine the current situation, evaluate their goals, and plot a new course. Reason prevails over emotions for those who are not risk averse.

“I have a Plan B” is what confident people know when they actively go after their goals and find a way to arrive where they are supposed to be. There is no pay if you don’t play.

Passive voices are pushovers for procrastination. No amount of sitting around can move us toward where we ought to go. It should be intuitively obvious that risk takers will get there while others fail. Wire walkers who stop mid course will fall into an abyss or a net. If only we could remember to build that net.

 

Photo Credit – Copyright: flynt / 123RF Stock Photo